General Washington’s Emotional Farewell At Fraunces Tavern

Samuel Chase
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On Thursday, December 4, 1783, the historic Fraunces Tavern in New York City took center stage as future President General George Washington bid farewell to the officers of the victorious Continental Army in the distinguished Long Room.

This iconic tavern, situated at the corner of Pearl and Broad streets in lower Manhattan, was a site that played a prominent role in history before, during, and after the American Revolution. The current structure was built in 1719 as a family home and later converted to a tavern in 1762 named the “Queen’s Head Tavern.” Since 1904, the tavern has been owned by the “Sons of the Revolution” and currently operates as both a restaurant and museum.

But on December 4, 1783, the tavern is about to stand witness to an emotional farewell from General George Washington. 

Having guided the army through six arduous years of conflict against the British, Washington’s leadership had culminated in triumph at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. This marked the formal surrender of British General Lord Cornwallis and effectively ended the Revolutionary War. However, it would take two long years to finalize the peace treaties negotiated with the British and to remove the last vestiges of the British army. By this time, General Washington is ready to go home.

Despite Washington’s private laments during the war about the challenges he faced by undisciplined troops and the shortcomings of his officer corps, he expressed genuine appreciation to his comrades at Fraunces Tavern. Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, an observer of the intimate scene, vividly captured Washington as “suffused in tears,” embracing each officer individually during his farewell address.

Later departing for Annapolis, Maryland, Washington officially resigned his commission on December 23, before returning to his cherished estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he intended to live out his days as a gentleman farmer. However, Washington’s respite from the public eye was short-lived. In 1789, he was persuaded to emerge from retirement and was subsequently elected as the first President of the United States, a role he held until 1797.

Fraunces Tavern, with its historic Long Room, remains forever etched in the narrative of this pivotal moment in American history.

The following is Tallmadge’s account of that emotional day:

The time now drew near when the Commander-in-Chief intended to leave this part of the country for his beloved retreat at Mount Vernon. On Tuesday, the 4th of December, it was made known to the officers then in New York, that Gen. Washington intended to commence his journey on that day. At 12 o’clock the officers repaired to Francis’ Tavern, in Pearl Street, where Gen. Washington had appointed to meet them, and to take his final leave of them. We had been assembled but a few moments, when His Excellency entered the room. His emotion, too strong to be concealed, seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment, in almost breathless silence, the General filled his glass with wine, and turning to the officers, he said: “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

After the officers had taken a glass of wine. Gen. Washington said: “I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.”

Gen. Knox being nearest to him, turned to the Commander in Chief, who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped his hand; when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner, every officer in the room marched up to. kissed, and parted with his General-in-Chief.

Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed, and hope I may never be called upon to witness again. It was indeed too affecting to be of long continuance — for tears of deep sensibility filled every eye — and the heart seemed so full, that it was ready to burst from its wonted abode. Not a word was uttered to break the solemn silence that prevailed, or to interrupt the tenderness of the interesting scene. The simple thought that we were then about to part from the man who had conducted us through a long and bloody war, and under whose conduct the glory and independence of our country had been achieved, and that we should see his face no more in this world, seemed to me utterly insupportable. But the time of separation had come, and waiving his hand to his grieving children around him, he left the room, and passing through a corps of light infantry who were paraded to receive him, he walked silently on to Whitehall, where a barge was in waiting. We all followed in mournful silence to the wharf, where a prodigious crowd had assembled to witness the departure of the man who, under God, had been the great agent in establishing the glory and independence of these United States. As soon as he was seated, the barge put off into the river, and when out in the stream, our great and beloved General waived his hat, and bid us a silent adieu.

We paid him the same affectionate compliment, and then returned to the same hotel whence Gen. Washington had so recently departed. Thus closed one of the most interesting and affecting scenes that I ever witnessed — a scene so fraught with feeling, that it seemed for a time as if it never could be erased from vivid and constant reflection. But, such is the wise constitution of human nature, that other objects and pursuits occupy the mind and engross the attention, or life would become a burden too heavy to bear.

In a few days, all the officers who had assembled at New York to participate in the foregoing heart-rending scene, departed to their several places of abode, to commence anew their avocations for life.

Having for seven years been banished from the home of my father, at Brookhaven, in Suffolk county, on Long Island, I determined to visit the place of my nativity. Accordingly, I set out to pay my respects to my honored father and friends at Brookhaven aforesaid. Being principally Whigs, and now emancipated from their late severe bondage, the people had determined that they would celebrate the occasion by some public demonstration of their joy. They therefore concluded to have public notice given, that on a day near at hand, they would have an ox roasted whole on the public green, to partake of which all were invited to attend. I remember well, that after a most joyful meeting with my former friends (many of whom I had not seen since the war commenced), I was appointed master of ceremonies for the occasion. When the ox was well roasted, the noble animal on his spit was removed to a proper place, and after a blessing from the God of Battles had been invoked by my honored father, I began to carve, dissect, and distribute to the multitude around me. The aged and the young, the male and the female, rejoiced to receive a portion, which, from the novelty of the scene, and being in commemoration of so great an event, obtained a peculiar zest.

All was harmony and joy, for all seemed to be of one mind.

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